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How coffee mugs are like grant writing: The importance of storytelling in grant applications. Grant Writing Simplified Podcast with Teresa Huff

Are You Telling Your Nonprofit Story? How Coffee Mugs Are Like Grant Writing [Episode 58]

Coffee Mugs, Grant Writing, and Storytelling

What do coffee mugs have to do with grant writing? (Besides drinking lots of coffee to stay awake and finish the grant!)
 
A few days ago I was getting a mug for my early morning coffee, and it got me to thinking that grant writing is a little bit like those coffee mugs. Let me explain.
 
Our everyday dishes are a nice white set my husband and I got for a wedding gift years ago. The set came with all the matching plates, saucers, and such. They have these white teacups that go along with them and look really pretty on the shelf. Even though we’ve moved several times, they’ve matched every kitchen we’ve had. They’re a good classic white set.
 
But when it comes to our everyday coffee habit, those matching white cups aren’t the ones we use every day. Behind another door, I keep the mismatched, chipped, random colored coffee mugs. Each one tells a story. One reminds us of our family vacation on Sanibel Island a few years ago. Another was a gift from a mentor. Others are from a job in a past life or an alma mater.
 
Each one tells a story and each one is memorable.
 
Those are the ones we use every day because they’re like old friends and we love the shared stories. You wouldn’t know most of the stories just by looking unless we tell them.
 

Helping My Nonprofit Clients Tell Their Stories

One of my clients is a nonprofit senior center. I love helping them tell their story in grants and articles because for one, it’s so compelling, and because it makes such a difference in their lives.
 

You can see the joy written on their faces when they’re in the exercise classes. You can feel the camaraderie when you walk in the building. They’re truly developing a community of support that has become a lifeline for those senior adults, and the grant funders get it. 

That’s the result of a powerful story. 

How I Craft a Nonprofit’s Story

When I’m writing for a nonprofit client, I select the personal impact stories and data that are most relevant to each application, and then weave them together in a way that clearly paints the picture of what’s happening in their community. 

If a funder’s main focus is senior adult health and preventing falls, then I’m not going to spend the whole grant application talking about their lunch program. I might mention the lunch program to show what kind of services are available, but I’m going to focus the bulk of my research on how risky falls are for senior adults. I’m going to tell stories about how the exercise program has made such a difference in their health.
 

No Story Is Perfect

Those coffee mugs on my shelf aren’t perfect. Some are chipped. They sure don’t match. But that’s part of the beauty and we don’t apologize for it. Instead, we share the stories. 
 
We don’t hide the imperfections, because they’re part of the stories. No nonprofit is perfect, and funders know that. But they want to know your story, how you’re making a difference, what’s moving the needle for you. They want to know how you’re overcoming challenges. How you’re impacting lives.
 
We don’t tell all the stories all the time, and neither should you. Our guests’ eyes would glaze over and they might doze off if we brought out the entire shelf of mismatched coffee mugs. 
 
But we tell the high points. We remember the seasons, the events. And some stories we don’t need to tell. The mug speaks for itself. 
 
Same with grant funders – consider the person on the other side. What would you want to read if you were the reviewer? Make your story clear, concise, and compelling.
 

What’s Your Nonprofit Story?

What stories are you collecting, and where can you keep them to pull out when you need to? 
 
What kind of visuals can you use to better tell your story? 
 
Maybe it’s not coffee mugs, but maybe it’s a behind-the-scenes picture of your volunteers working late at night to stock the food pantry. Maybe it’s a comment from a client whose life was changed with your nonprofit’s help. Maybe a graph or chart to give a visual of the impact.
 
Stories can be a mix of facts and personal experience. The data builds credibility and adds detail; the experiences make it personal and memorable. There are many ways to incorporate both. It’s kind of like good copywriting; you need to appeal to both logic and emotion. Know your audience so you know the appropriate balance between the two.
 

Using Tech Tools to Support Nonprofit Storytelling

At the beginning of the episode I mentioned this episode’s sponsor, Instrumentl. I love how their system helps grant writers and nonprofits collect the data on auto-pilot so we can focus more on telling our stories. 
 
I highly recommend giving them a try because we have enough on our nonprofit plates already; this is one aspect of our work that they’ve made really easy to offload. Go to www.teresahuff.com/instrumentl and use the discount code GWSPOD to get a two-week trial and then $50 off your first month.
 

Nonprofit Story Challenge: 

Today I want to leave you with a challenge question:
 
What’s your nonprofit story, and how will you tell it?
 
If you’re a nonprofit and need support telling your story, I invite you to apply to work with me at teresahuff.com/nonprofits. And if you’re a grant writer wanting to help nonprofits tell their story, let’s get you on the Fast Track to Grant Writer today.
 
All right friends, now go change your world!

 

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